Strike fighter controls all about the kill

''Fighter pilot Nirvana'' is how test pilot Al Norman describes being at the controls of the Joint Strike Fighter, Australia's next combat aircraft.

So sophisticated are the flight and weapons systems, even this journalist, sitting in a JSF simulator brought to Canberra yesterday, could take out an enemy fighter 20 kilometres away and then safely land on a moving aircraft carrier.

''You know what is going on at all times,'' Mr Norman said.

''It is fighter pilot Nirvana - I know who I will kill, when I will kill and how I will kill. I don't have to spend time reading displays to get situational awareness. This allows me to be a tactician, not a technician - to concentrate on the mission and not on the plane.''

The 40-minute joy flights offered to media yesterday by US firm Lockheed Martin highlighted how this must be the fighter of choice for the Xbox generation, who will become its pilots when the real thing reaches Australian skies.

The ease of landing on the make-believe carrier was remarkably simple. A pilot's right hand, which controls the stick, does all the work. You have to centre a circle representing your plane with the deck of the carrier. Stall speed, once the bane of carrier landings, is no longer an issue. The JSF's sophisticated operating systems automatically adjust the speed as the plane makes the approach.


The end result is the aerial equivalent of the self-parking facility currently being promoted as a feature of a well-known German make of car - but at a hundred times the speed.

Designed as a stealth fighter, the JSF's sensors indicate it is invisible to the missile site radars unless it is virtually on top of them. The sophisticated and long range on-board missiles can be launched against ground sites long before it pops up on their radar.

Because the JSF, more correctly known as the F-35 and named the Lightning in honour of the twin-boom WWII fighter developed by Lockheed, gives the pilot a remarkable ability to see in all directions - up and down, front and back and side to side - consideration is being given to developing new types of weapons to take advantage of what Australia's Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, has described as a ''God's eye view'' of the aerial battlefield.

''The JSF brings new meaning to the term 'combat lethality','' he told an audience of more than 650 people at last week's Air Power Conference.

Despite the enthusiasm from the RAAF about its capabilities, the JSF project has been hampered by delays and cost blow-outs.

The federal government announced last week it would delay its order of 12 jets by two years to help it achieve its budget surplus.